Calipari, Cats taking Bahamas games seriously

jtipton@herald-leader.comJune 30, 2014 

Kentucky Coach John Calipari said the basketball games in the Bahamas will be "hard games for us to win," but that's exactly what the Wildcats want.

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Summer trips, such as the one the Kentucky's men's basketball team will take to the Bahamas in August, usually contain little sense of urgency. Cincinnati Coach Mick Cronin compared such competition to a meaningless "spring game" at the end of football's spring practice.

But John Calipari said Kentucky will approach the games in the Bahamas "a little different" in August. UK will face quality competition and will want to win, he said.

"We're doing it a little differently than most teams," he said on a Southeastern Conference teleconference Monday. "Most teams don't care about what the games are."

The UK coach acknowledged not putting a priority on winning when the Wildcats played several exhibition games in Windsor, Canada, in 2010. "I didn't care who we played," he said.

The competition in the Bahamas from teams based in the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and France will be better than the customary punching bag. The Dominican Republic team, coached by former UK assistant Orlando Antigua, will use the Bahamas trip to prepare for the 2014 World Games in Spain. The Champagne Chalons-Reims team has elevated itself to France's top professional league. The Puerto Rico national team reserves are "the next wave" of candidates for that country's national team, Calipari said.

"They'll be hard games for us to win," the UK coach said.

Kentucky will not be the only SEC team playing in the Bahamas this summer. Mississippi is also going. Coach Andy Kennedy said that the 10 extra days of practice allowed by such trips lost a bit of its allure when the NCAA permitted teams to practice as much as two hours per week during the summer and early fall.

Kennedy noted the chance the trip affords to integrate five newcomers — none being freshmen — into his team.

"For me, it's putting a team together and seeing how we can formulate our identity," he said.

Come together

Calipari struck a non-confrontational tone when asked about the Rupp Arena renovation project.

Two weeks ago, Lexington Mayor Jim Gray suspended the much-discussed project, having already hired architects and a construction firm. Gray halted the project after the Kentucky legislature declined a funding request.

Earlier in the spring, UK president Eli Capilouto and Lexington Center Corp. chairman Brent Rice exchanged letters that sharply disagreed about the reasons why funding for the project had not been forthcoming. Capilouto cited the lack of public support as reflected in a poll and an imprecise funding plan. Rice pointed to UK's lack of enthusiasm.

Calipari, who has been noticeably quiet about the project, mentioned that he had been out of town as the project unraveled. He had been recovering from hip surgery. He said he received a "little overview" from UK Deputy Director of Athletics DeWayne Peevy.

"I just hope everybody gets together and does what's right for the city and the university," the UK coach said.

No 'brainwashing'

Calipari downplayed his role in helping players make the decision of whether to return to UK for another season or enter the NBA Draft.

"I literally spent five minutes with them," Calipari said of meetings he had with players facing such a decision this year. Ultimately, Julius Randle and James Young chose to enter the draft. Both were first-round picks.

"No four-hour brainwashing," Calipari said of his meetings with players. "... (No) beating them down."

As he did earlier this off season, Calipari mentioned his surprise that Willie Cauley-Stein chose to return to UK next season.

"I thought Willie was leaving," said Calipari, who said he offered Cauley-Stein a congratulatory thank-you after Kentucky's season-ending loss to Connecticut in the NCAA Tournament championship game. The UK coach said he expressed his pride in how much Cauley-Stein had improved in two seasons.

Cauley-Stein decided to come back because he enjoyed the UK experience, did not feel ready to excel in the NBA and wanted to win an NCAA Tournament championship, Calipari said.

"Then I said that's a good reason to want to come back," the UK coach said.

We want Kentucky

The SEC will shift from one permanent home-and-home opponent to three in the 2015-16 season. Schedule-makers face the problem of having many more than three league teams wanting to play Kentucky twice each season.

"Everybody would like to have Kentucky because Kentucky has been the bell cow for years and years and years," Vanderbilt Coach Kevin Stallings said. "I think if you gave just about everybody a choice, if they didn't consider the competitive disadvantage it may create because it's awfully hard to beat them, I think everybody would line up and want to play Kentucky."

Associate Commissioner Mark Whitworth said the SEC asked each of its schools to list three or more opponents desired as permanent home-and-home opponents. A "fair number" listed Kentucky, he said.

No decisions have been made, Whitworth said. He added that it was "very safe" to assume each team's current permanent opponent would remain one of the three home-and-home opponents each season. Kentucky's permanent opponent is Florida.

Three-minute warning

South Carolina Coach Frank Martin sounded miffed with the lack of questions. When the moderator ended Martin's segment with a thanks-for-playing sendoff well short of the allotted seven minutes, he said with more than a whiff of sarcasm, "My pleasure. Always great to give you three minutes."

Actually, Martin's segment was clocked at three minutes and 54 seconds. Mississippi State Coach Rick Ray had the shortest time: 2:54.

Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson led the way at 10:12. Calipari's segment was 10:10.

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com.

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